Accusations, outrage, and half truths abound online after a glitch caused the West Bank and Gaza to briefly disappear from Google Maps.
Validating the truism that on the internet a lie can go viral before the truth has even checked for status updates, Google has found itself accused of deleting Palestine from its Google Maps service, despite the fact it was never labelled by Google in the first place.
Accusations and outrage abounded online after a glitch caused the West Bank and Gaza to briefly disappear from Google Maps.
A petition on Change.org, signed by 250,000 people described Google’s alleged airbrushing as akin to ethnic cleansing:
“Google has no grounds wha[t]soever for omitting Palestine from its maps. The fact that Israel – an artificial state established on Palestinian territory – is clearly designated on Google Maps, while Palestine itself has been “airbrushed” out, is outrageous and deeply offensive to Palestinians. It is the online parallel of Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian villages and changing Palestinian place names in an effort to erase Palestine from the map. Google is aiding and abetting the Israeli government in this ethnic cleansing program.”
The truth however is somewhat more complicated and veiled with shades of grey, and serves mainly as an example of how Google attempts to deal with areas that have disputed borders
Google Maps shows the Gaza strip and the West bank with a dashed border instead of solid line that normally denotes a country’s border, indicating the fact that the area is in dispute over which country lays a definitive claim to what section of land.
Despite the fact 136 countries of the UN recognise Palestine as an independent state, crucially, the US and several other Western countries don’t, and therein lies the rub. So in real terms, at least in the case of Google Maps, nothing has changed, but this didn’t stop the news going viral.
Without getting into the moral, ethical, and political dimensions of the dispute between Palestine and Israel, the outcry has shown that how tech companies such as Google view the world, or try to map it objectively, they should take more care in how they represent areas where not everyone agrees with what what belongs to who.